Monthly Archives: January 2016

Smaller clubs toppling Premier League elite – we may have to get used to it

“It may simply be that this season is a freak. Leicester have 47 points after 23 games; not since 2002-03 have the leaders had fewer than 50 points at this stage. If teams keep winning points at the same rate as they have up till now, they will end up with 78, the lowest tally to win the title since Manchester United did it with 75 in 1996-97 when they effectively had the league sown up by the beginning of May and drew three games on the run-in, still finishing seven clear of Newcastle United in second.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Tactical Analysis: Monchengladbach 1-3 Dortmund | Effective counter attacks work for Dortmund

“In the return of the Bundesliga, Tuchel´s BVB gave dealt a severe blow to Borussia Mönchengladbach beating them as they did in the first round of the league, when they won 4-0. Although in this case the tactics and the circumstances were very different from that encounter.” Outside of the Boot

Fans’ Patience With Louis van Gaal at a Nadir

“By any measure, Manchester United is one of the four biggest soccer clubs in the world. Its wealth, tradition, stadium and future earning potential are all up there with Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich. But on the field, United is massively underachieving. Its team is out of the Champions League and drifting out of contention in the Premier League, where Leicester City, a low-budget club, still leads the standings with more than half the season gone. Bravo to Leicester, and shame on United.” NY Times

Tactical Analysis: Lyon 1-1 Marseille | Both teams can draw positives from stalemate

“Billed in France as the “Olimpico” a meeting between Ligue 1’s best-supported team and its most successful over the last fifteen years would normally be a top-of-the-table clash. However, Sunday’s encounter between Marseille and Lyon was anything but. At the start of play, (and at the end of it) both teams were firmly ensconced in undistinguished seasons that, through a combination of injury and flawed transfer policies, had seen them fail to reach the heights that saw each spend long stretches of last season in first place. Both had already changed managers since the start of the campaign, and failed to impress either domestically or in Europe, even if Marseille had advanced from a weak group in the Europa League.” Outside of the Boot

Bob Bradley Climbs the Global Soccer Ladder With an Impediment: He’s American

“LE HAVRE, France — In the conference room of a smart hotel in the center of this port city, four Frenchmen were talking loudly over one another and gesticulating toward a flip chart in front of a row of empty chairs. Bob Bradley, the recently appointed coach of the city’s second-tier soccer team, Havre A.C. — more commonly known as Le HAC — sat nearby. Bradley was awaiting the arrival of his players for a team meeting before that evening’s league match against Paris F.C., the French capital’s second team. As the voices of his four assistant coaches rose, Bradley drew half a soccer field onto the flip chart — free hand, but with perfectly straight lines — before writing the names and numbers of his players and their possible opponents in different colored pens. He quietly checked the names and spellings with a translator.” NY Times

Tactical Analysis: Athletic Bilbao 5-2 Eibar | Bilbao blow away the 4-4-2

“Bilbao’s quest for the all important 4th spot had hit a brick wall over the past couple of weeks. While they suffered defeats to Sevilla and champions Barcelona, their opponents on the day – Eibar had impressively leapfrogged them and mounting their own charge for the final Champions league spot. Despite being relegated the last time they were in this division, Eibar have been impressive this season. Solid would be the more appropriate word. Borja Baston, the young striker on loan from Atletico has 14 Liga goals just two short of Cristiano Ronaldo while Escalante and Dani Garcia have formed a solid midfield base. Playing a 4-4-2 more often than not (due to the form of Borja Baston), they have excelled against similar opposition but struggled against top quality sides. Against Bilbao it proved no different.” Outside of the Boot

Technology in Football: Should a change be made?

“With another weekend of controversy surrounding refereeing performances, certain decisions made, mistakes by linesmen, mistakes that change a game, the question of what should be done about this lingers. More importantly the question of ‘Should a change be made?’ Now mistakes are part and parcel in football. Players, managers, officials, they all make mistakes regularly. But in this day and age, where the technology is available to aid officials, that question is always going to be raised. You only have to pick up a newspaper where it will show what the Premier League table would look like if you corrected officials’ mistakes.” Outside of the Boot

Bust and boom, Russian football style

“This morning I grabbed a coffee with a friend who works with a national championship club here in Russia. In the luxurious surrounds of the McCafe near Kievskaya Station we discussed the impending doom in his club. We’d soldiered together in 2010/11 and, then, at just 25, he was ready for greater things. I recommended him to a position with a Moscow-based club and after only four months he was brought away to a National Championship club to work his magic there. As we drank our cappuccinos he began to tell about a coming bust.” backpagefootball

Tactical Analysis – Norwich City 4 Liverpool 5

“In what proved to be the craziest game of the season up to now, Norwich’s selection contributed with high level of peculiarity. Neil made four changes from the team that started their last game against Bournemouth, which looked nothing major, especially ast two of the players who started here were regulars (Dorrans and Redmond). Naismith starting this game also wasn’t a surprise given he’s already well accustomed to the demands of the league following his period at Everton. It was only the inclusion of new right-back Pinto that raised eyebrows, more so given Neil’s pre-game comments that he wouldn’t rush to play his overseas signings so soon after joining the club.” Tomkins Times

Italy’s Latast Golden Boy

“The province of Varese is far to the north of Italy, almost a part of Switzerland, a narrow corridor of land sandwiched between Lake Como and Lake Maggiore. In the small town of Leggiuno on November 7, 1944, there was born in this district Italy’s current footballing idol, Luigi Riva. You don’t get close to appreciating Riva’s personality unless you see it in this context – the context of a country boy, one orphaned at an early age, who still prefers to spend a part of each summer close-season in the province of Varese indulging in a spot of quiet fishing, and visiting friends made in his youthful years on a thoroughly informal basis.” In Bed With Maradona

Top South American clubs launch Liga Sudamericana to challenge disgraced CONMEBOL

“Last week, 15 of South America’s top soccer clubs got together in Montevideo, Uruguay, and decided to create an organization named Liga Sudamericana, or the ‘South American League’ (as in ‘League of Nations,’ not ‘Premier League’). And even though the organization has no clear leadership yet, it does have a clear purpose: to shift the power balance from CONMEBOL, the South American confederation, to clubs looking to depend less and less on the discredited continental confederation for their earnings.” Fusion

Ciao! Italia 90

“The coordinated effort to develop of a coherent visual identity for the Italian World Cup. ‘A three-dimensionally accessible idea, future technological games, televised images, consumerism’. These are the words of Lucio Boscardin – author of the lanky Ciao! mascot – which appear on the pages of Epoca in November 1986, the day following the unveiling of the visual identity of the Italia 90 football World Cup, crystallising the visionary spirit of his project. After all, concepts such as ‘future’ and ‘technology’ would become recurring themes in the artistic project behind a tournament which aimed to renovate Italy’s image, distancing the ‘bel paese’ from its inalienable provincialisms and stereotypes.” Copa90

Around Europe: Mourinho looms over Man United; Argentine attackers star

“As the transfer window gets set to shut and teams in Europe’s top leagues take stock of where they stand, significant developments continued to unfold around the continent. Arsenal, down to 10 men, lost ground in the title race after a London derby defeat, while Manchester United also slipped again at home in the Premier League. Real Madrid dropped its first points under Zinedine Zidane, while Pep Guardiola is facing another injury-induced challenge at Bayern Munich. Two Argentine strikers are fighting it out for top honors in Italy, while in France, the title race is over already. Here is what caught our eye Around Europe this week.” SI

Garth Crooks’ team of the week: Alli, Firmino, Payet

“Behind them, heavyweights Manchester City and Arsenal both slipped up in their pursuit, with Tottenham gaining ground on the duo with a 3-1 win over Crystal Palace. Manchester United are now five points shy of fourth spot following their home defeat by Southampton. But who were the outstanding performers? Here are my selections…” BBC

Analysis: The genius of Lionel Messi | Offensive Pressing Traps, La Pausa and more

“The 2014/15 season was one with many fine performances, some examples worth mentioning are: Juventus, Sampaoli’s Chile who won the Copa America for the first time ever and of course the ’tripleta’ season of FC Barcelona. If there is someone to praise except the fantastic attacking-trio of Barcelona, it is coach Luis Enrique. He has fine-tuned the system of Barcelona, especially the way the midfielders now work in order to open up space for the talented strikers to work in, compared to Guardiola’s system, where the wingers were much more wing-oriented, which was even mentioned by Thierry Henry here.” Outside of the Boot

Sharing a Name With Barcelona, if Not Its Fortunes

“In his sparsely decorated corner office overlooking the field at Estadio Monumental, Juan Alfredo Cuentas sought to explain the power of the brand he has inherited as Barcelona Sporting Club’s new vice president for finance. Outside, the once-manicured grass lay vacant for the off-season, slowly spoiling in the January heat. … For most soccer fans around the globe, the name Barcelona is synonymous with the likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suárez; huge financial resources; and Champions League triumphs that have often made Spain the king of the sport. But in Ecuador, the name Barcelona is usually associated with the 90-year-old soccer club founded here in Guayaquil, the country’s largest city. The two teams are very different, of course, but in at least a few ways they are alike.” NY Times

Tactical Analysis – Liverpool 0 Man Utd 1

“Neither manager made any selection surprises. Van Gaal fielded an unchanged starting XI, the only tweak being that Martial and Lingard swapped places down the flanks with the former now on the left and the latter back to the right (against Newcastle it was the other way around). Klopp made one change to his line up but it was hugely influential, as it brought about several other changes to how Liverpool played. With Lucas coming in for Ibe from the previous striker-less 4-2-3-1 formation, the Reds were now in a striker-less 4-1-2-3; instead of having both the wide men high and narrow, here Lallana and Milner were deeper and narrower.” Tomkins Times

Even after José Mourinho’s exit Chelsea’s numbers are not looking good

The good news for Chelsea is that they are unbeaten since Guus Hiddink replaced José Mourinho as manager in December. The bad news is that 10 points from six league games is probably not a start that is going to close the gap on the top four – which stands at 14 points. The FA Cup remains a possibility but, unless Chelsea somehow win the Champions League, a change of manager alone will not have been enough to salvage the season.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Chelsea – Accidents Will Happen

Diego Costa 2
“After such a successful 2014/15 when they won the Premier League and Capital One Cup, very few people would have expected Chelsea to fall off the rails so spectacularly this season. However, a combination of key players losing form and manager José Mourinho struggling to find a solution, not to mention the distasteful Eva Carneiro episode, led to a string of defeats and ultimately the departure of the ‘Special One’.” The Swiss Ramble

Tactical Analysis: Chelsea 3-3 Everton | Poor defensive structure and offside trap

“Chelsea and Everton met on Saturday at Stamford Bridge, both needing a win. Since Guus Hiddink replaced Jose Mourinho in December, Chelsea hadn’t lost a game, but had only picked up 1 win in 4. Everton, meanwhile, had also failed to win in that period, drawing with both Tottenham and City. Both Hiddink and Roberto Martinez wanted a win to placate fans and get their top four challenges back on track.” Outside of the Boot

Everton: Where Is The Luck?

“With plenty of attacking thrills in the shape of Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley and Gerard Deulofeu, it is easy to see why people have warmed to Everton this season. However, this bed of attacking roses has found its beauty tempered by a proliferation of defensive brambles. For every sublime Deulofeu cross bouncing invitingly onto the fringe of the six yard box, we find John Stones mysteriously alongside Barkley somewhere in central midfield with the team out of possession. We see Lukaku arriving a yard from goal with the trajectory and velocity expected from a turnbuckle dismount while Gareth Barry attempts to direct the chaos around him from the age-enforced position of a sentry.” Stats Bomb

Norwich City: Will the Canaries be flying above the relegation zone in May?

“If you had offered Alex Neil 15th place and a spot six points above the relegation zone at the midway point in the season back in August, I am sure he would have grateful received it. The Scotsman rejuvenated the Canaries when he arrived in January, leading the East Anglia side to promotion from the Championship with an unbeaten record on the road. He looked to continue with the same attacking and creative brand of football in the Premier League, but the former Hamilton Academical manager has realised the need to adapt to the unforgiving nature of the English top flight.” Outside of the Boot

BFC Berlin at 50: The Team Everyone Loved To Hate

“The 50th birthday of any football club is an occasion to celebrate, but the festivities on Friday 15th January of the former East Germany’s most successful club side will stir up mixed emotions for fans from a bygone era. Formed in 1966, Berliner FC Dynamo became the GDR’s premier club side racking up ten successive league titles between 1979 and 1988. Their coach during that period, Jürgen Bogs, can point to a record which under most normal circumstances would place him as one of the most successful coaches in European football with a CV that would stand up against more recognisable names.” Bundesliga Fanatic

CONMEBOL’s ills curtailed Pele’s global appeal

“It can surely be seen as a consequence of the FIFA-Gate scandal, of which South America was the epicentre. The arrest or indictment of so many football fat cats has obviously weakened the power structure – which in turn has emboldened the clubs. In Ecuador, for example, the clubs look set to take over the running of the local championship from the federation – a project that long-term FA president Luis Chiriboga said he would bury. Instead, with Chiriboga one of the names on the list of those indicted, there has been a change of power at the top and the clubs have come out fighting. The meeting of the 15 clubs, with talk of setting up an association, is a similar thing happening on a continental scale.” The World Game – Tim Vickery

The Question: Klopp v Van Gaal … has Manchester United’s manager been left behind?

“Jürgen Klopp had warned us what we should expect. As he charged down the touchline on Wednesday evening punching the air and shouting amid the snowflakes after Joe Allen’s late equaliser against Arsenal, he was perhaps not merely saluting a hard-earned point but relishing a game that fulfilled his ideal of what football – and specifically English football – should be.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

The grass isn’t always greener on the other pitch

“Why do football fans wish to ground-hop and tick experiences and stadiums off their bucket list? Some people just wish to experience as much as possible whilst they are physically and financially able, or whilst the credit card still has some life in it. Others may be looking elsewhere upon becoming disillusioned with the state of football in their country. For me, it was a little of both. What I found in South America, and Argentina in particular, was that whilst there are fascinating aspects to their game, it is not the utopia it appears to be and is not without its problems. A little like in England. What makes the game great in one country may also be the source of its problems, and vice-versa.” Football Pink

Five players who could leave Manchester City in the summer

“Manchester City’s squad is expected to undergo an overhaul this coming offseason if Pep Guardiola succeeds Manual Pellegrini as manager. There has already been talk around who the Spaniard would bring to the Premier League with him and that will of course lead to exits from the Etihad Stadium.” backpagefootball

Tactical Analysis: Sevilla 2-0 Athletic Bilbao | Athletic dealt knockout blow by hardworking Sevilla

“Sevilla took on an impressive Athletic side in a potential six pointer in La Liga. With just 2 points between them and fourth place up for grabs, a tense encounter awaited. Athletic came into the game on an impressive run of form having just lost 2 in the last 10 games, one of which was against current leaders Atletico. Having defeated Villarreal (currently 5 points clear in 4th place) in the Copa del Rey, facing a team like Sevilla who are considered in the same bracket as them came at the right time.” Outside of the Boot

Wayne Rooney to Pele: Weird & wonderful goal records

“Wayne Rooney has set so many landmarks that he could almost have an entire episode of Record Breakers  dedicated to him. The Manchester United striker passed another one by scoring Sunday’s winner at Liverpool, overtaking Arsenal’s Thierry Henry as the scorer of the most goals for a single club in Premier League history. Rooney, 30, rifled in his 176th league goal for the Red Devils since arriving from Everton in 2004. Here, we take a look at some other weird and wonderful goalscoring records.” BBC

World Cup 2018 – peace at last

“Amid the dying embers of 2015 there was a spark which spoke volumes about the nature of football and politics, which are always one and the same. And it all revolved around the fallout from the bids for World Cup 2018. In Russia, as we know, all football clubs are political vehicles. They are backed by local cities/regions, or by politicians/businessmen, bar one exception.” backpagefootball

Ratings – Liverpool 3-3 Arsenal: Giroud & Firmino shine in Anfield thriller

“Liverpool and Arsenal shared the spoils in a six-goal thriller that saw Joe Allen as the unlikely hero behind his side’s late equaliser. The hosts were six points off the top four going into this fixture and while they may not have made the head-way they would have liked by sharing the points on the night, they did at least help to produce a game worthy of being played under the famous mid-week floodlights of Anfield.” Squawka

FA Cup’s declining status to continue in modern Premier League world

“As the cliché goes, the third round of the FA Cup is the most romantic weekend of the season; but it’s some time since the cliché has been true. Instead, a new tradition has sprung up, that of bemoaning the FA Cup’s declining status. The first week of January is now when English football gets together and makes some half-baked suggestions about how to restore the competition’s relevance. It seems bizarre now that the FA Cup was until the late 1980s the premier competition of English football.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Real Madrid looks rejuvenated as Zidane wins first game in charge

“Zinedine Zidane wore the number five shirt during his time as an iconic player at Real Madrid, so it was somehow fitting that Real Madrid beat Deportivo La Coruna 5-0 on his coaching debut Saturday night. This was a first game that even the Frenchman could not have imagined, with two early goals settling the nerves and a last-minute Karim Benzema strike that underlined a huge improvement in performance, attitude and atmosphere.” SI

Tactical Analysis: Sevilla 2-0 Athletic Bilbao| Athletic dealt knockout blow by hardworking Sevilla

“Sevilla took on an impressive Athletic side in a potential six pointer in La Liga. With just 2 points between them and fourth place up for grabs, a tense encounter awaited. Athletic came into the game on an impressive run of form having just lost 2 in the last 10 games, one of which was against current leaders Atletico. Having defeated Villarreal (currently 5 points clear in 4th place) in the Copa del Rey, facing a team like Sevilla who are considered in the same bracket as them came at the right time.” Outside of the Boot

How Bad Are Aston Villa?

“Coming into this season I was somewhat bullish on Aston Villa. Okay that’s not quite true but I thought they’d at least be semi-competent. Admittedly, some of this was colored by the fact that Villa bought four Ligue 1 players in the summer and I liked three and a half of them (the half being Jordan Ayew). I loved the Jordan Amavi signing and thought that he’d do good things at LB, Idrissa Gueye knows who he is as a CM and Veretout produced interesting playmaking numbers at a young age even though he mixed it up between playing CM and as a #10. I had my issues with Ayew because I thought he was inefficient when on the ball, but overall I thought Villa did well with their French recruitment.” Stats Bomb

The Argument: Is There Too Much Football on TV?

“When did being a football fan start to feel like such hard work? It’s not that there’s more football in the world than there used to be. What’s changed is the availability and exposure of it all. Anybody with the right sort of television package, mobile phone contract or internet connection should never go more than 24 hours without a game to watch. Live football dominates the sports channels’ schedules throughout the weekend, from Friday evening to Sunday night and into Monday. Then the Champions League and Europa League pick up the slack between Tuesday and Thursday along with cup ties, replays, and seemingly endless midweek rounds in the Championship.” thetwounfortunates

Book review: Fully Programmed – The lost world of football programmes

“Derek Hammond and Gary Silke have already achieved critical praise and impressive sale figures for their excellent ‘Got Not Got’ and ‘The Lost World of’ series of books on footballing nostalgia. Their regular articles are also featured in BackPass magazine. This book represents another worthy addition to their collection. To some people, programme collecting as a hobby is on a par with train spotting. It is considered to be the preserve of males still living at home with their mothers and is a peculiarly British tradition. Nothing could be further from the truth- programme collecting has always been cool.” Football Pink, amazon, [PDF] Fully Programmed: The Lost World of Football Programmes

Messi the favorite, but could Neymar jump Ronaldo in Ballon d’Or voting?

“What do Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Franck Ribery and Manuel Neuer all have in common? In the last four years, each was the ‘gooseberry’ on the Ballon d’Or podium behind Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. This year could be different; for the first time since 2010, when Ronaldo slipped to sixth (Iniesta was second and Xavi third) the Messi-Ronaldo duopoly could be broken by the player Barcelona signed to one day replace Messi: Neymar.” SI (Video)

A Compilation of EPL Model Predictions after Round 20/38

“The 3rd round FA Cup weekend is already under way which means a break from the arduous Premier League season. With 20 out of the 38 rounds finished and 200 current season matches to draw data from, it seems like a good time to attempt to predict what might happen at the end of the season. Will Leicester City carry on with their spectacular early, but recently waning, form and be crowned champions at the end of the year, having been fighting against relegation just the year before? Will Spurs win their first league title in more than half-a-century, or will it be one of the more usual suspects in Arsenal or Manchester City? What should we expect from traditional powerhouses Manchester United and Chelsea? And is there any salvation for Aston Villa? Too many questions and if you are looking for definitive answers, this is NOT the place to be.” Stats Bomb

Leicester City: The secret behind the success

“Sitting two points clear at the top of the table come Christmas was not the position anyone expected Leicester City to be in. Newly appointed manager Claudio Ranieri even stated himself that 40 points was the target for his side prior to the season, as 40 points usually ensures safety from relegation. Playing in a style of football which wouldn’t exactly be considered attractive by most, Leicester are certainly able to get the results irregardless of the popularity of their style.” Outside of the Boot

SI Now: Wahl on European coaching carousel, Arsenal, FIFA election

“The European coaching carousel is in overdrive, with a number of the sport’s biggest names on the move. Jose Mourinho is gone from Chelsea, and Guus Hiddink is in charge for the rest of the season. Pep Guardiola announced he’ll be taking a Premier League job after this season with Bayern Munich, where Carlo Ancelotti will then take over. Zinedine Zidane has taken over for Rafa Benitez at Real Madrid, where Zidane starred as one of the world’s greatest players. To make sense of it all, speculate on where the carousel might stop next and also delve into Arsenal’s Premier League title chances and the latest regarding the FIFA election, SI’s Grant Wahl joined Maggie Gray on Thursday’s SI Now. Watch the video above for the entire interview, and for more on the goings on in the world of soccer, listen to the new Planet Fútbol Podcast here.” SI

The Premier League: A New World Order or a temporary glitch?

“So is this the most extraordinary Premier League season ever? One where all the certainties of elite financial domination have been smashed and football is once more truly competitive and absorbing? Or is where we find ourselves after the first half of the season just a blip before the football universe’s financial masters reassert themselves? The truth is that we won’t know until the end of the season, until the game is played out. But it is also true that the very existence of that state of not knowing means there has been change.” Football Pink

The Tragic Flaw of the Modern Football Manager, and Why Ancelotti is Immune

“The history of football tactics is defined by innovators. Managers who specialize in tactical theory and find ways to reinvent the beautiful game are forever engraved in the minds of supporters. It is the era of the philosopher in football, as systems based on ideas of the correct way to play are dominant in Europe’s top leagues. This dogmatic belief in one’s own philosophy is often the tragic flaw of managers who enjoy tremendous spells of success. FC Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola has a special stake to the claim of the most innovative mind in football history. However Die Roten now more than ever are an ideal fit for the versatile pragmatist Carlo Ancelotti.” Bundesliga Fanatic

Muhamed Besic, the cultured scrapper who could turn out to be an Everton gem

“It was only Muhamed Besic’s third start of the season but if he was anxious he hid it well. Standing in the tunnel before the Capital One Cup semi-final first leg against Manchester City, he yawned. He went on to produce his best performance in an Everton shirt, a cultured scrapper buzzing around the more sedentary solidity of Gareth Barry. It is easy to be carried along by Roberto Martínez’s ebullience – although not so easy as not to raise an eyebrow when he describes Barry as one the great players in English history – but the match provided much for Everton fans to be optimistic about, and nothing more than Besic’s performance.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Pep Guardiola has a lot to prove in England

“Like anyone who has sat to write a CV in the last six months, I know what it is to be despondent. The enthusiasm of opening the laptop, of punching in those bold, visionary two letters at the head of the page, of seeing the unbroken vista of the paper spread out before you, ready for the imprint of your life’s achievements – it soon fades. For I have very few, and I’m left realising just why the unwelcome ritualistic reminder of drafting a resume is so hated.” backpagefootball

Stade de Gerland

“The Stade de Gerland (otherwise known as Municipal de Gerland or Stade Gerland [stad ʒɛʁˈlɑ̃]) is a stadium, in the city of Lyon, France and home to Ligue 1 football club Olympique Lyonnais. It has a seating capacity of 40,494. Situated in the Gerland quarter, it is used by French professional football club Olympique Lyonnais, who will move to the Stade des Lumières in 2016. The Stade de Gerland is listed as a Category three stadium by UEFA‘s standards and has hosted matches for the 1972 Rugby League World Cup, UEFA Euro 1984, the 1998 FIFA World Cup, and the 2007 Rugby World Cup.” Wikipedia, The Stadium Guide, World Soccer

What would the Premier League look like if it were a knockout competition?

“At this early stage of the year, English football is all about knockout competitions: the busy festive period of league football is over, and instead we have midweek Capital One Cup semifinals, followed by the FA Cup third round. In fact, this year as a whole is also heavily based around knockout football, with the supposed offseason featuring three major competitions: Euro 2016, the Olympics and a bonus Copa America, too. Knockout football is interesting, in part, because it’s more likely to produce slightly unusual winners. Few would argue, for example, that Wigan were England’s best team in 2013 because they won the FA Cup. The element of randomness is precisely what people enjoy, and come to expect; the concept of a giant-killing in the cup competitions is arguably what the tournament is all about.” ESPN – Michael Cox

What’s wrong with Southampton?

“This season has been a rich tapestry of successes and failures. From the elevation of Leicester, Watford, Stoke and Bournemouth, to the fall of Aston Villa, Swansea and Chelsea, it’s been a season of maddening stories. At the turn of the year, the current side on the slide is Southampton. On Christmas Day 2014, the Saints were nestled in the top four and the pundits were asking if they could stay there come April. One year later, the 31st of December saw Southampton sat in 12th. Not quite Leicester’s fairy tale, eh?” Outside of the Boot

The Question: what is attacking football?

After Manchester United’s goalless draw with West Ham in December, Louis van Gaal professed himself baffled by the Old Trafford crowd’s demands for his side to be more attacking. ‘I don’t understand that they are shouting ‘attack, attack’ because we are the attacking team and not West Ham United,’ he said. In doing so, he raised a question that seems fundamental to football and yet is surprisingly hard to answer: what is attacking?” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

A Soccer Team, Its Foreign Owner and Local Discontent

“A new Chinese owner arrived at the Dutch soccer club ADO Den Haag in early 2014, promising multimillion-dollar investments and better days ahead. Fans of the club liked the sound of that. Yes, the money to buy the team arrived a few months late, but it did arrive in the end, along with firm deadlines for further investments and a handful of new signings. Even if the most ardent fans were wary of the new owner’s intentions, they held their tongues. ADO, a 110-year-old club, has not won the top Dutch league, now known as the Eredivisie, since the end of World War II. But the new owner, a wealthy businessman named Wang Hui, promised to turn the team into a powerhouse — one that could challenge the likes of Ajax, P.S.V. Eindhoven and Feyenoord, clubs that have long dominated Dutch soccer, and play well enough to qualify for top European competitions like the Champions League.” NY Times

The Argument: In 2016, Football is as Political as Ever

“‘Write a piece about something that is bugging you’ about the game. Blimey, where do you start? Footballs on plinths, rampant corruption, automatic bookings for taking your shirt off, the pointlessness of football phone-ins, York City in the mire of sub-mediocrity? The choice is endless and picking just one thing out is a thankless task. And yet… The notion that football and politics do not mix is absurd. Not just football, to be fair, but sport generally. And it’s a trope that comes around with alarming regularity. It needs to be stopped. There’s little in life that isn’t political, and football cannot escape.” thetwounfortunates

The Bundesliga at the Break: Bayern and Dortmund

“As the Pep era comes to a close and the Tuchel era dawns, it looks like business as usual in the Bundesliga. Bayern are 8 points ahead of Dortmund while BVB have a a comfortable 6 point edge on Hertha in 3rd. Bayern have pretty much wrapped up the title barring a shock but Dortmund’s improvements have seen them establish themselves as a legit rival if Bayern drop from their otherwordly level just a bit. Title races in the future have the potential to be something special, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Today we look at the teams as they have performed so far this season and some questions for the second half of the year.” Stats Bomb

Your Perfectly Average 2015-16 PL Side: Starring Watford

“There’s been something of a lower class uprising in the Premier League over the last 9-12 months. Leicester were left for dead last season yet here they are lurking around first place despite most analysts saying they shouldn’t be there and won’t stay there (in fairness, they shouldn’t but that’s already been discussed). Bournemouth have remarkably remained a positive shot differential team this season despite a litany of injuries to their attacking core (with expected goal numbers not painting Bournemouth quite as highly, locations have hurt them), and have Crystal Palace somehow found a formula of making the shots that hit the target incredibly valuable? (Well, no they haven’t but the divergence between TSR/ xG formulas that count all shots versus SoTR/xG models that count only SoT is fascinating).” Stats Bomb

Tactical Analysis: Everton 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur | Both sides fail to take chances

“Everton and Tottenham Hotspur played out a fascinating 1-1 draw at Goodison Park, a result which helped neither team’s cause. Everton were left stranded on 11th, while Spurs failed to maintain a positive push for the title as rivals Manchester City and Arsenal won their respective games.” Outside of the Boot

Time To Give Up On Klopp?

“With no magic wand, why are we even bothering with Jürgen Klopp? Wasn’t he supposed to have fixed everything by now? What’s he waiting for? As I saw on the BBC website, some Liverpool fans are saying that the football is even worse than under Brendan Rodgers; indeed, someone said it to me on Twitter. Clearly Klopp has overstayed his welcome, and wasted too much money on players. He’s had long enough to sort this all out. He’s been found out. Or something.” Tomkins Times

Brighton Floored by a Wolves Sucker Punch

“When the Football League’s longest unbeaten run from the start of the season came to an end, it at least did so with a degree of finality. Being the last unbeaten club in the upper echelons of the English league system had, in all honesty, become something of a millstone around the neck of Brighton & Hove Albion. After last season’s closer than expected or wanted brush with the possibility of relegation back to League One, a year of mid-table security might have been enough for the club, but from the start of the season Chris Hughton’s team had been grinding out results week after week, seldom looking likely to set the world alight, but being consistently difficult to beat.” twohundredpercent

South America’s brightest want a slice of ‘Paree’

Generated by IJG JPEG Library
“At the end of the First World War there was a new hit tune in the United States, one that made reference to the experiences that US servicemen were having on the other side of the Atlantic. The title – ‘How can you keep ‘em down on the farm, now that they’ve seen Paree?’ It is a song with relevance to modern football. Because in today’s globalized world, footballers from the four corners of the globe have all seen ‘Paree’ – meaning, in this case, the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and (why not?) Paris Saint Germain. It is where they all want to be. And so it has become impossible to keep them at home.” The World Game – Tim Vickery

Unhappy New Year in Russia

“While working on a year end review with all the fun of the fair and recovering from a series of dentist appointments, a brilliant article flashed across my LinkedIn page that sent me into uproar. It nudged to restart an article from October which I felt was going to sound too unreal. Thanks to our apparatchiks here in Russia, I needn’t have worried, the unreal just got real again.” backpagefootball

How wonderful life is: The joy of Watford’s world

“Even though I’m a Watford boy, I used to hold a season ticket at Tottenham Hotspur. I went between 1998 and 2003 with my dad, alternating with my brother Richard, who was there for Sol Campbell’s return. I was at the 3-5 defeat against Man United, and also the 1-3 loss in the Worthington Cup against Birmingham. Unpredictable, full of flair, and lots of foreign talent, Spurs were fine, but Man United won things, so I switched to them in 2003.” Football Pink

Back Page Football’s five most read articles of 2015

“It’s been another big year for Back Page Football as we published almost 1000 articles that covered news, views and opinion from all across the globe. As we head into 2016, there’s no better time to look back at the 12 months that was, and below are the features that grabbed the attention of our readers the most.” backpagefootball